My third book by Ian McEwan (first was The Cement Garden, then Amsterdam). Again, the writing is beautiful and something I can get lost in, and with tMy third book by Ian McEwan (first was The Cement Garden, then Amsterdam). Again, the writing is beautiful and something I can get lost in, and with this beauty McEwan is consistent. In Cement Garden, he fashioned the a supreme eeriness, in Amsterdam the lighthearted, and in this book, the grief and displacement that comes with any tragedy.
I get lost in that displacement with Stephen, the main character of this story, yet this empathy for him made me frustrated too because there were a lot of instances in which Stephen falls into reverie, "time-jumps," so the narrative I am following falls to pieces in these mix-ups. It's hard to keep up and maintain sympathy for Stephen when he's so annoyingly disoriented (yet who am I to judge - I haven't lost a kid before). Sometimes it gets slow or tedious because there are some dense passages that I think the book can do without.
The book ends satisfyingly as we see Stephen reconcile his disorientation and grief as the reader comes to understand what it really means to be a "child," what it means to come to terms with time and how we position ourselves in the flow of it. As we get lost with Stephen, we also become rooted as he becomes rooted, and that's an interesting exercise in itself. ...more
I almost want to give this 4 stars, but I can't (which is explained later).
I don't know what anyone expects, but this is not the Rowling you're accustI almost want to give this 4 stars, but I can't (which is explained later).
I don't know what anyone expects, but this is not the Rowling you're accustomed to from the Harry Potter series. For one, the prose is obviously more elevated (though sometimes it looks like Rowling is trying too hard to write an 'adult novel' - some words seemed subbed in via thesaurus, other times she insists on using "perennial"[this seems to be her FAVORITE word] and "ostentatiously" ineffectively.) but it is pleasing to read. It carries that same flow and ease that young readers might be used to from the Harry Potter books, the kind of lulling that compels you to turn the page.
And the subject matter is considerably darker - it's all about the small town of Pagford, politics, teenagers (and all the things they're normally associated with), class divisions, etc. But despite these differences, I felt the same kind of homeyness I felt towards Hogwarts and Privet Drive. Rowling builds towards an intense familiarity by alternating constantly between scenarios (which is jarring at first but serves its purpose later) and her depth in characterization. It is hard not to care about this small town and its citizens. With apparently thirty-four characters, The Casual Vacancy is an immense but mostly successful project.
The only thing that bothered me was, in my opinion, the obvious effort on Rowling's part to write a more "adult," "realistic" novel by aiming for extreme interconnectedness, a kind of contriving air that never pervaded the Harry Potter books. The central device for moving the plot forward also felt clunky and ignorantly fantastical. Luckily, this only started to emerge toward the last third of the book. Part of this "adult" approach resulted in Rowling's inevitable inclusion of things like rape, prostitution, drugs, self-harm, etc. in ways that seemed to only serve the purpose of elucidating the "reality of reality" and instilling "reality" in fiction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. As such, some characters (one in particular) seem unjustifiably sacrificed in the name of Rowling's fiction. And ultimately, these efforts detracted from the message that Rowling seemed to be trying to make about class divisions, prejudices, poverty, etc. While these connections may speak to the small, intense community of a town, it perhaps could have been better executed.
All in all, I liked it and I'm glad I read it. It's an endearing book about an endearing town with endearing characters. Give it a shot....more
I went into this book with an apprehensiveness, bracing myself for an author that was declared a "hit or miss," yet I really wanted my experience withI went into this book with an apprehensiveness, bracing myself for an author that was declared a "hit or miss," yet I really wanted my experience with this book to prelude my easing into the "Infinite Jest."
I was almost immediately taken by the stories. Though I cannot say I found anything thematically consistent throughout the stories and I found it to be a time-consuming feat to focus and refocus my attention, I am a sucker for literal wit and I can say, in cheer, that I would be willing to read this book again (despite it having some very obtuse pieces, one of which I had to simply forgo the second half because I no longer had the interest to muscle through the rest) to discover more of its literary merits. ...more
Something to sum up my experience, from the book (taken out of context, it's not spoilerish) - teeth, root canals, and their removal. Felt like a mixSomething to sum up my experience, from the book (taken out of context, it's not spoilerish) - teeth, root canals, and their removal. Felt like a mix of Vonnegut and Crying of Lot 49 but I couldn't recount that towards the end....more